“See,” said Abner, pointing towards the inky horizon in the distance, “right there.” The two boys lay prone on a small rise just beyond the roadside ditch. As they watched from beneath a starry night sky, a faint speck of light bobbed across the murky ground for half a minute before abruptly disappearing.
Two nights before—when he first spotted the light—Abner had been sitting on the side of the same road in his broken-down truck. While he weighed his options: hoping someone passed on such a remote road—and so late at night—or walking back to town for gas, he had stepped off the road to urinate. Gazing absentmindedly into the vast darkness stretching out before him, he saw the tiny light in the distance.
After he’d finished urinating, he stood and watched the little light for nearly half an hour until a car finally passed and gave him a ride back into town. When he returned with a gas can the following day, all he saw in the distance were a few small brick buildings; so old and neglected the plants and foliage had begun to pull them beneath a sea of leafy green waves.
Finding Elbert in school the following morning, he told him about his breakdown, and about the light. After hearing the story, Elbert had admitted that it was strange, but he was prepared to leave it at that. “Do you know what’s over there?” asked Abner at their lockers, excitedly grabbing his shirtsleeve.
Elbert tugged his arm free and said, “I didn’t think anything was out that far.” He shut his locker door as a group of kids passed by, and Abner waited until they were out of earshot before continuing.
“Well there isn’t really, not now anyway,” said Abner, grabbing his own bag as they left for class. “But, years ago, that’s where the old Sigbee railway freight depot was,” he continued. Elbert just nodded noncommittedly, but Abner went on anyway, “so, who do you suppose is back there in the middle of the night? And what on earth can they be doing?” he asked excitedly.
“It’s probably just some kids screwing around or something,” said Elbert flatly. Over the years, he had developed a sixth sense for Abner’s wild schemes, and the hair on his neck had begun to prick up. “Whoever it is, they obviously want to be left alone,” he said, hoping to end the conversation as he walked into class.
Sitting down behind him, Abner tapped him on the shoulder and leaned over his desk. “I heard,” he said in a low voice, “that when the depot was active, the government used to run a laboratory out there. And that they did all these weird experiments on mental patients before shipping them away somewhere out west.”
Elbert turned around in his seat and rolled his eyes. “Why would the government do secret testing on mental patients at a railroad depot in crummy little Sigbee?” he asked. The teacher walked briskly into the room and shut the door with a loud bang, causing Elbert to jump in surprise, and he turned back around.
Before sitting back down in his own seat, Abner quickly said, “because of all the crazies around here,” and laughed at his own joke. The teacher shot him an icy look and he abruptly stopped laughing. Sitting upright, he ran his fingers through his straight brown hair with a sheepish look on his face.
As he always did however, Abner triumphed through sheer endurance of will, and by lunch Elbert listened self-loathingly as his friend explained his plan to return to the roadside and see if the light would make another appearance.
Now, as he also watched the dim white orb bound across the shapeless night landscape, Elbert had to admit that it was weird—but he had already known that. “How long did you say the depot has been shut down?” he whispered.
“Daddy said it’s been thirty years or so,” said Abner, whispering back. “If you look over there in the daytime, you can’t hardly tell there was ever anything there at all. Just some tracks disappearing into the kudzu and brambles. The weeds and sumac’s all grow’d up through everything,” he said, flicking a bug from his arm in the dark.
Elbert began to crawl backwards, still on his stomach. “Okay, like I said, I agree, it’s strange—let’s go,” he whispered.
Abner grabbed his arm in the dark to stop him and said, “whoa—where are you going? We didn’t figure out what it is.”
“We didn’t say we we’re going to figure out what it is. We said we’d see if it was here again. It’s here again—let’s go,” whispered Elbert harshly. Even though the sun was down, it was still warm, and clumps of dirt were sticking to the sweat on his arms.
Abner gasped quietly in the dark and said in an equally loud whisper, “what do you mean ‘not figure it out’? Of course we have to figure it out!”
A part of Elbert had been expecting this, and he cursed his own naivety. There was no reason to try and discover the source of the light—Abner simply wanted to do it because it was there to be done. He could insist, stomp his foot and say, “no, I will not go,” but Abner would go anyway, and when—not if—he got himself into trouble, Elbert would feel responsible.
He wouldn’t be responsible, but he would feel it all the same. Besides, whatever the source of the light, it was almost certainly a simple explanation: workers repairing the old depot in the cool of the dark rather than the hot daytime; kids drinking beer, smoking dope, and necking; maybe even a hobo taking advantage of some free real estate, even if the train hasn’t been by the depot in nearly half a century.
Elbert sighed, blowing a hot puff of dust from the ground. “Fine,” he said, “but as soon as we figure out what the light is, we leave—I mean it.”
“Deal,” said Abner, his smiling lips showing pale teeth that shined with moonlight.
Buy me a coffee?
If you enjoy my stories, please consider buying me a coffee so that I can sit around writing more for years to come. I'm a man of simple tastes, but I do enjoy a cup while I write. Thank you!